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Facebook is not just a social media platform; it’s a viable treasure trove of case studies that are absolutely fascinating from a psychological point of view. Here’s one you might be familiar with: The people who post a seemingly infinite amount of selfies, in different outfits, with a variation of contorted “duck faces.” While the majority of people would probably assume that the person is just really into themselves, I have a very different perception. In fact, I always feel a little tug in my heart when I see someone posting copious amounts of selfies, because I don’t believe it’s a reflection of self-absorption or conceit but rather, an unhealthy desire for approval.

So what’s behind a need for approval? What motivates people to go to extreme lengths to be accepted by others? The first thing that came to my mind was low self-esteem. Maybe a lack of assertiveness. And initially, that was all I could think of. Then I looked at data from Queendom’s Emotional IQ Test and was surprised to discover eight factors that contribute to a need for approval. Here they are:

  1. Self-esteem
  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 82
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 36

Not surprisingly, low self-esteem tops the list of traits that correlate with a need for approval. If you’re constantly changing your appearance, beliefs, values, and behavior to please others you are devaluing your worth. You’re a walking billboard that screams, “I’m not good enough as I am!”

2. Self-Motivation 

  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 76
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 36

What does self-motivation have to do with a need for approval? I honestly had to ask myself that, because I wasn’t sure – and then the perfect example came to mind: Know someone who always needs a pep talk? Who is constantly down on themselves and looks to you to stroke their ego and prop them up again? People with a strong need for approval thrive on praise and on your undivided attention. Sadly, like most extrinsic sources of motivation, it will only keep them going for a little while, until they need an ego boost refill

3. Excessive Rumination

  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 33
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 76

Ever kept yourself up at night worrying about a problem? Yup, there’s a term for that: It’s called “Rumination”. People with a high need for approval always obsessively preoccupy themselves with a variety of worries. At the top of the list: Worrying about what others think of them.

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4. Contentment

  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 73
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 38

A need for approval is a fragile thing: If you’re the type of person who lives for compliments (or Facebook likes), one dislike, one voice of disapproval will shatter your Alice-in-Wonderland illusion. Essentially, if you only like yourself if other people like you, it’ll be like riding on a never-ending self-esteem roller-coaster. This is why people with a high need for approval are generally unhappy: Rather than building a solid sense of self-worth from within, the source of their self-esteem is dependent on something outside of them…and a fickle thing at that.

5. Self-Awareness

  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 75
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 47

Take a moment to answer this question before reading the next paragraph: What do you value? What are your beliefs?

Now ask yourself this: Do you truly value and believe these things, or do you only do so because it’s what other people (family, friends, culture, society) value and believe? My point is, maybe you do things a certain way because it’s how you’ve been taught to do it. But does it reflect how you really feel? I’ll use my friend as an example: She put aside a fulfilling career to get married and be a stay-at-home mom. She loves her husband and her children, but she often finds herself wondering what life would have been like if she had pursued her dream job. When I asked her why she got married so hastily, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s what was expected of me. It’s what my parents wanted.”

“Was it what you wanted?” I responded.

She shrugged her shoulders again, but didn’t say anything. And looked so very, very sad to me.

When you are aware of who you are, what you stand for, and what you want, you won’t blindly stumble through life, allowing yourself to be inundated by other people’s opinion – you’ll create the kind of life that you want. And when people disapprove of you (which people will inevitably do, because they think that you have to live up to their expectations of “normal”), you’ll be able to assertively say, “Thank you for your input, but this is my life, and I’m going to live it my way.”

6. Values Congruence

  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 82
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 63

Tying into self-awareness is the concept of “value congruence,” which means having a clear set of values and standing by them. Someone may say that they disapprove of bullying, sexism, racism, and discrimination, but if they don’t stand by those beliefs when they see it happening then their convictions lack substance.

People with a strong need for approval may have a set of values, but they may not be core beliefs. They may be following the trends, rather than taking the time to figure out what really matters to them. When you crave approval, you’re more likely to jump from one bandwagon to other, so that you can feel like you belong.

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7. Assertiveness

  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 66
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 32

Like peanut butter and jelly, it’s not uncommon for a need for approval to go hand in hand with a need to please others. If you find it hard to say “no” to someone when they ask for a favor, feel guilty when you do, or are constantly forgoing your desires for those of other people, you may be a people-pleaser. The solution: Assertiveness training. Being assertive is about creating healthy boundaries. It’s about tactfully telling people how you want to be treated. It’s about kindly but firmly saying “no” when someone makes too many demands on your time. It’s about realizing that it’s OK to put yourself first sometimes, and that your needs matter too.

8. Resilience

  • Score for the “low need for approval” group: 82
  • Score for the “high need for approval” group: 50

I admire the stoic, the resolute. I am the type of person who will replay a humiliating or horrible moment in my head over and over like a cheesy movie. I dissect what people say. If there’s even just a hint of disapproval, I’ll be miserable. Resilient people don’t do that. They either won’t care what other people think, or they’ll accept that they messed up, learn from the situation, and move on. I build a shrine to my ineptitude.

Being resilient is about putting a problem or negative situation in perspective, and realizing that it is what it is. Which means that you can either wallow in misery, or pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and ride the storm out until you see the sun again. Just as with self-esteem, when you hunger for approval and don’t get it, it’ll feel like the entire world is against you.

I can’t sit here and admonish people who desire approval and who want to be liked by everyone, because it’s human nature. What I can do is emphasize one crucial point: Never underestimate the value of being you. There’s a sense of confidence, a sense of power, that comes with accepting yourself as you are. So many people spend their entire life changing their face, their body, their beliefs, and the core of who they are in order to make other people happy. You don’t need anyone’s approval. You embody the human spirit, in all its wonderful glory – and are perfect, just the way you are.

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Insightfully yours,
Queen D